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The Greek T-shirt – facts vs. assumptions

Reading a text in a foreign language is a very complex process. It involves a variety of skills, ranging from what Neville Grant calls “plain sense reading” through “deductive reading” to “projective reading” (Grant 1987). Plain sense reading, according to Grant, requires nothing more than what the term implies – i.e. the ability to understand […]

Reading a text in a foreign language is a very complex process. It involves a variety of skills, ranging from what Neville Grant calls “plain sense reading” through “deductive reading” to “projective reading” (Grant 1987). Plain sense reading, according to Grant, requires nothing more than what the term implies – i.e. the ability to understand what is stated in a text. Deductive reading involves the ability to draw inferences – deductions – from what is stated in a text. Or, in Grant’s words, learners should be able to do more than just “read the lines”: they should be able to “read between the lines”. Projective reading, finally, involves the ability to relate a text to one’s personal opinions, knowledge, imagination, and experience. Learners should be able to “read beyond the lines” (Grant 1987:61).

Grant suggests that foreign-language teachers should give learners ample opportunity to practise their projective reading skills. Otherwise, he says, there is the risk that texts written in a foreign language will always remain something separate from learners’ experience rather than part of it (Grant 1987).

There is, however, also the risk that learners may be tempted to draw too many inferences from their own experience when reading a text. To balance their eagerness to read far beyond the lines, here is an exercise to remind them of the dangers involved in assuming too much when interpreting a text.

STEP ONE

Hand out the following text to the learners:
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HAVE YOU BEEN TO GREECE?

It is December. Michael is standing in the arrival hall at Helsinki airport, tanned and relaxed. He is wearing a white T-shirt with a red text saying Kos, Greece. Peter, an old friend from long ago, sees him and walks up to him.

“Hi, Michael. Have you been to Greece?”
“Yes, I have.”
“How was it?”
“To be honest, I can hardly remember anything at all.”
“You must remember something. What was the weather like?”
“It was raining non-stop every day.”
“Then how can you be so tanned?”
“I spent five or six hours in the sun every day last week.”
“Have you had a lot to drink lately?”
“Indeed I have. Several litres every day.”

Peter shakes his head and walks away.
———————————————————————————

STEP TWO

Ask the learners to read through the text and, individually, write down their first impressions of Michael as a person. Next, ask them to list everything they know about Michael for a fact.

STEP THREE

Divide the learners into pairs and ask them to discuss Michael and to compare their list of facts. Encourage them to give reasons for their opinions and assumptions.

STEP FOUR

Display the background information below on an OH transparency. Next, ask the learners to discuss everything that they had accepted as facts but which proved to be false assumptions. How, in their opinions, could these misunderstandings have been avoided from a language point-of-view?

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Michael has just returned from a week’s holiday in Hawaii. He never drinks alcohol, but in order to cope with the hot sun he had to drink lots of mineral water every day. He has visited Greece only once, when he was a little boy of three. The t-shirt he’s wearing is a gift from his sister who visited Greece some time ago.

Reference:
Grant, Neville (1987). Making the most of your Textbook London & New York: Longman

Written by Rolf Palmberg for TEFL.net January 2009
Rolf Palmberg is a senior lecturer at Abo Akademi University at Vaasa, Finland, where he teaches EFL methodology in the university teacher-training programmes for class teachers, foreign-language teachers and special-education teachers.

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